Mesut Ozil's future and hopes of a move to MLS headlines this week's Insider Notebook: PLUS: A row over a "shameful" ham sandwich in Spain.
Ozil attracted to MLS move
Mesut Ozil is open to joining a club in Major League Soccer once his time at Arsenal comes to an end, sources told ESPN. The 32-year-old will enter the final six months of his £350,000-a-week contract in January and will be free to negotiate directly with overseas clubs.
MLS sides D.C. United and LA Galaxy have been linked with a move for Ozil, while sources said David Beckham's Inter Miami are also among a host of other clubs in multiple countries monitoring the situation.
Ozil has not played for Arsenal since March 7 and was left out of the club's Premier League and Europa League squads by manager Mikel Arteta.
Arsenal are willing to allow Ozil to leave next month -- especially if they can generate a fee for the World Cup winner -- but sources claim Ozil is continuing to train in the hope he can play for the Gunners in the second half of the season before leaving next summer.
Ozil has continued to show his support for Arsenal on social media despite being frozen out of the first-team picture and recently offered to cover the salary of the man posing as mascot Gunnersaurus for as long as he remains at the club.
Reports in Turkey earlier this week suggested Ozil was close to joining Fenerbahce next month, but sources said a decision on his next club has yet to be finalised. -- James Olley
Row over 'shameful' ham sandwich for Rayo women
Rayo Vallecano's women's team have complained about what they perceive to be second-rate treatment after photos emerged of a meagre-looking ham sandwich they were given by the club as a postmatch meal.
The snack -- two slices of dry bread and four slices of ham -- was handed out after an away match at Levante last weekend. The team considered going on strike for Wednesday's match at Real Sociedad, alleging a series of complaints including the late payment of wages, before backing down.
"The conditions we face are far from being able to deal with the demands of competing in the [Spanish women's first division] Primera Iberdrola," a squad statement said.
When contacted by ESPN, a Rayo spokesman pointed to president Raul Martin Presa's denial of any mistreatment, and his insistence on the club's right to decide what players eat.
A statement claimed the picnic of two sandwiches and two apples "fulfilled all of the requirements from a nutritional point of view for metabolic recovery after a match, containing sufficient protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals."
A club source went further, telling news agency EFE the photos had been "completely manipulated" -- without explaining how -- and alleged they were part of an "orchestrated extortion" against the club.
Rayo's men's team have backed their colleagues, with forward Jose Angel Pozo describing the sandwich as "shameful." -- Alex Kirkland
Ogden: Raiola just doing his job with Pogba exit push
Mark Ogden wasn't surprised to see Paul Pogba's agent Mino Raiola push for a United exit.
Toronto FC to interview World Cup winner Blanc
After the departure of Greg Vanney, Toronto FC are looking for a new manager and Laurent Blanc is one of the main contenders, sources told ESPN. Bill Manning, the club's president, is in charge of recruiting the next boss and he likes the former Paris Saint-Germain and France head coach's credentials.
Blanc will be interviewed in the next few days, sources said. He has been without a managerial job since he was sacked by PSG in June 2016 and he turned down a job at Ligue 1 side Nantes earlier this week.
At 55, he is interested by the Toronto project and is ready to commit himself to a new league, as well improving his spoken English skills, sources said. Blanc has had very positive feedback on MLS and if he made the move, he would face his former France teammate and fellow 1998 World Cup winner Thierry Henry, who is in charge at Montreal. -- Julien Laurens
Raiola takes aim at FIFA in battle with agents
Perhaps unsurprisingly, superagent Mino Raiola is not a fan of FIFA's proposed new agent regulations. Among other things, they cap commissions, stop agents in many cases from representing multiple sides of a deal and introduce new guidelines on transparency. They could come into force as early as next September.
"It's a bulls---, a big bulls---," Raiola said recently, speaking at the World Football Summit.
Raiola, whose client list includes Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Matthijs De Ligt, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Erling Haaland and Paul Pogba, maintains agents were not sufficiently consulted in writing the new regulations and that they are being scapegoated to deflect from FIFA's own problems.
"I don't recognise the power of FIFA," Raiola said. "For me, FIFA is not something that should dictate law ... we need a new system. MLS did it. They created a new system. Twenty years ago, MLS said they wanted nothing to do with FIFA. Nothing. FIFA said MLS was ridiculous. You know what they did? The FBI arrested half of FIFA and gave [the United States] the World Cup."
His historical reconstruction might not be entirely accurate. MLS has been under the auspices of the United States Soccer Federation and, therefore, FIFA since its maiden season in 1996. It was, most likely, not responsible for sending federal prosecutors to arrest FIFA bigwigs at the Baur-au-Lac Hotel in Zurich five years ago -- but there is no doubting Raiola's feelings toward the game's governing body. -- Gab Marcotti
Bayern want De Jong deal
Bayern showed an interest in De Jong in the summer and were prepared to spend more than €70 million to finally land a player they first targeted when he burst on to the scene at Ajax. However, despite the need for cash, Barca resisted the Champions League winners' attempts to sign De Jong, refusing to even talk about the possibility of a deal.
De Jong, 23, has since signed a new six-year contract at Camp Nou, and one source close to the player says there's less than a 1% chance he joins Bayern in the immediate future.
Barca's financial situation remains precarious, though, and they must sell before they can buy in January. One source at the club says they hope to be able to move on Neto and Junior Firpo, but they would also listen to reasonable offers for Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann, among others.
De Jong, who has already played under three coaches at Camp Nou since signing in 2019, is not one of the players they will entertain bids for but no one's long-term future at the club can be guaranteed beyond Jan. 24 at the moment.
That's the date when a new president will be elected, who is likely to bring in a new sporting director, fresh ideas and maybe even a new coach.
Until then, Barca's plans in the transfer window remain up in the air. The sporting director, Ramon Planes, is working on deals to leave in place for the new president, but coach Ronald Koeman admitted recently it will be difficult to do business until after January's election -- Moises Llorens and Sam Marsden
Wenger's mission to help tired players
Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is to play a central role in resolving the thorny issue of player fatigue and fixture congestion during the buildup to the 2022 World Cup, with FIFA and the most high-profile leagues and associations still to agree a calendar for 2022-23 season.
Qatar will host the first winter World Cup in the Northern Hemisphere during November and December in 2022, prompting the need to reorganise the 2022-23 season to incorporate a window of six to eight weeks for international teams to prepare for the tournament.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on football has led to increasing concerns over player welfare due to this season being shortened by up to a month in the major European leagues, with the number of games in club and international competitions largely unchanged.
But with issues still to be addressed over when domestic leagues and competitions such as the UEFA Champions League will be staged in 2022-23, England manager Gareth Southgate has said that Wenger's role as FIFA's head of global development will be crucial in ensuring that the best interests of players are considered when the 2022-23 fixture schedule is arranged.
"I know Arsene is heavily involved in FIFA, so I have every confidence he is going to put the right sort of argument on the table with regard to player welfare," Southgate said. "But generally speaking, a lot of those decisions are made without coaches and it would not be clear to me exactly how all of the calendars will join up across the different confederations and different associations."
Southgate has consistently voiced concerns about the demands on players this season and, with the impact of a winter World Cup still to properly addressed, he says that coaches should be heard within the debate.
"I have spoken before about a missed opportunity, given how that World Cup sits -- you need to juggle the whole calendar -- you are talking about the whole world," he added.
"Where all of those things sit it is difficult to say, but I would hope that within all the discussions, the coaches are consulted. It doesn't have to be me, but coaches of clubs or national managers - whatever it might be." -- Mark Ogden